Union History

Dominating the scene in Union for many years was the late F. Edward Biertuempfel, who served in the chief executive's office from 1939 until his death in April 1973. The unchallenged leader of the Republican Party, he was re-elected regularly at the Township Committee's January 1 reorganization meetings when the governing body chooses the mayor for the upcoming year. Upon his death, Committeeman Samuel Rabkin became the mayor for the remainder of the year. Anthony Russo won the office in 1974, becoming the first Democratic mayor in half a century and served until 1993. One of the enduring mysteries of the creation of the township is how it got its name. There are many communities in the nation named Union, but most of these names were adopted on the eve of the Civil War, as a declaration of loyalty to the federal government. The Township of Union in Union County was created long before that. According to Robert Fridlington, president of the Union County Historical Society, and an assistant professor at Kean College, the township was established in the wake of "the biggest political brouhaha in history" - a fight over the location of a new courthouse to replace the one in Newark which was virtually falling down. One faction wanted the courthouse in Elizabethtown; one wanted it in Newark; and a third wanted it in the outlying areas. To settle the three-way fight, an election was called. At that time, Fridlington noted, New Jersey was the only state to allow women and blacks to vote. The courthouse election turned out to be one of the dirtiest in history. As one example, Fridlington said, some men voted early, went home to put on their wives' dresses and returned to vote again. There were repercussions, of course. For one thing, because of the widespread fraud, the state threw out the results of the election; for another women and blacks lost the vote, and did not get it back for years to come. Eventually, Newark got the courthouse - and everyone else got mad. Six southern communities, which were particularly upset about the courthouse decision, formed a "union" of townships in protest, Fridlington said. A year later, when Connecticut Farms broke off from Elizabethtown, it adopted the name of "Union". Perhaps that, like the Unions established just before the Civil War, was also a declaration of loyalty, the historian theorized.





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